For many of us, January 1st seems to be the perfect time to set new goals and begin the year with a clean slate. There’s something special about stepping into a new chapter filled with potential and having a mental list of projects to focus on, whether starting a healthy diet, developing a solid workout routine, learning a new language, finding a better job, reading more, or traveling the world.
But again, for so many of us, that initial buzz of excitement dwindles over time, and we abandon our dreams before we give ourselves a real shot at trying to follow through on our goals. Motivation wears out, and we encounter obstacles. There are other responsibilities that demand our attention, and, little by little, we push our big, exciting goals to the back burner.
Sounds familiar? If you’ve been down this road before and have yet to learn how to keep New Year’s resolutions, you came to the right place! In this article, we take a closer look at goal-setting, discuss common roadblocks, and share effective strategies for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions. Keep on reading to find out more!
The Art of Following Through
The thing about New Year’s resolutions is that they can be a great adventure or a great disappointment. Perhaps you manage to achieve your long-term goal, which can feel glorious. More often, though, we fail to follow through with the promises we make to ourselves, and that might make us feel like a failure, discouraged, and not interested in trying to get back on track with our new habits.
While your goal-setting process plays an incredibly important role when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I’d say it’s just 20% of total success. The majority of your work boils down to:
- committing to maintaining your goal,
- building an efficient system,
- setting some ground rules,
- showing up every day,
- following through.
I don’t know if you noticed, but New Year’s resolutions are a very particular type of goal to set for yourself. We usually focus our resolutions on implementing behavioral changes over a long period of time and try to pick the activities that’ll help us become a better version of ourselves. That’s already a lot of self-imposed pressure, wouldn’t you agree?
On top of that, there are more challenges like:
- a finite amount of motivation,
- other attractive goals or tempting activities,
- tendency to procrastinate,
- remaining resilient in the face of adversity.
That’s why following through with New Year’s resolutions, or long-term goals generally, is like art. To pull off a year-long commitment (preferably longer), you need to equip yourself with a toolbelt of different skills that’ll help you succeed at various moments in your journey.
Unavoidably, you’ll face some roadblocks and difficulties. Lucky for you, they’re pretty predictable, which means we can take a closer look at them and do our best to prepare for them ahead of time.
3 Common Obstacles & How To Overcome Them
1. No Plan = No Accountability
Let’s say this upcoming year, you want to read more. But what does that mean? Do you want to:
- read one book throughout the whole year?
- read one chapter daily?
- read for 15 minutes before bedtime?
Without a clear objective that you can measure, your goal isn’t tangible anymore. It’s too broad, too “blah”.
How will you hold yourself accountable if you don’t have a specific commitment to fulfill?
How will you know that you achieved your goal?
Listen, I get it. When we’re excited about starting something new, we can jump into action without thinking anything through. We just want to start already! But the truth is that not having a plan creates a lot of space for procrastination and excuses to sneak in. The more foggy your target, the more off course your focus will be and the higher the risk of ditching your New Year’s resolution without giving it a real shot.
Now, if goal-setting isn’t your forte, check out our guide to goal-setting for the new year.
Another simple way to keep yourself accountable is to put your goal-related tasks in your calendar. Notice I didn’t say to-do list, but a calendar:
- You can pick a specific time slot on particular days to follow your new habit.
- Let’s say that on Tuesdays at 9 AM, you open your computer and work on your portfolio for an hour. Simple as that.
- You can even set a reminder on your phone so that you don’t forget about this important event.
2. “All or Nothing” Mindset
Which one is better: running on a treadmill for 20 minutes (instead of 30) or not showing up to your training at all?
The answer might seem obvious, yet it’s so easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism when we start following our New Year’s resolutions. We might envision the ideal results and strive only for perfection, not allowing any mistakes or hiccups to happen.
But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you will tumble and fall. You probably will have cheat days, skip the gym, binge Netflix instead of working on your professional portfolio, or only find 10 minutes in your busy day to enjoy your new book. And that’s fine!
Life is not black and white; there are so many different colors to it. So instead of expecting the highest level of mastery from yourself, judging yourself harshly, and setting unrealistic standards – start slow. “Progress is a spectrum, not a specific place“, says James Clear in his article on goal maintenance.
It’s not like a light switch. It’s not like you either progress or you don’t. You can always set small goals to achieve big ones.
Think of implementing a new habit in your life as a building block. Each time you show up for yourself, you gain a building block, and little by little, your new habit can take shape and form as you get used to the newly set routine, as it becomes more and more automatic.
There is no question about it: small progress is better than no progress at all.
Not every day will you feel amazingly energized and ready to take on the world. There will be days when you’ll feel like doing 10% or even 5%. And that’s okay! So, how to drag yourself out of bed and conquer such a day? The key is to show up, even if that means doing 10 squats instead of a full-body workout or reading 2 pages of a book instead of a chapter.
Do your part, start small, and you’ll gain momentum as you progress further along.
3. Relying Solely On Motivation
Have you ever quit a new habit because you lacked motivation or you felt too lazy to keep going? Then you’re not alone.
Many people abandon their New Year’s resolutions once their reserves of motivation run dry. But the secret to following through on your goals is not to rely on your motivation to add fuel to your project but to build a reliable system and set ground rules to follow. Why?
Because on the days when you feel like crap, when you feel like not doing anything and even consider quitting, your system will nudge you in the right direction. Jocko Willink, the ex Navy SEAL and an author of “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual” explains that freedom in your life is achieved through exercising self-discipline.
Huh? Isn’t that contradictory?
Actually no! If you think about it, self-discipline is a tool used to better implement certain behaviors in your life:
- Want to live in a clean environment? Start by making your bed in the morning.
- Want to save some money? Learn to cook at home more often.
- Want to pick up jogging? Wake up early before work and go running in the park.
And the thing about self-discipline is that it starts with self-love. It’s not this twisted way of punishing ourselves and treating ourselves with a“tough love” approach. Building your system, having your ground rules and sticking to them is actually the ultimate sign of respect, commitment and compassion you have toward yourself.
When you come from a place of self-love, you don’t want to engage in activities that no longer serve you. You prefer investing time and energy into taking care of yourself, fulfilling your potential, and even making your own dreams come true. And that is far more durable and reliable than ever-changing levels of motivation.
How To Stick To New Year Resolutions While Encountering Setbacks?
Just to revise: to successfully maintain your New Year’s resolutions, you need:
- a crystal clear goal,
- an efficient system built around it,
- some ground rules,
- a dose of self-discipline and self-compassion.
Even with all these factors taken care of, facing obstacles is inevitable. We might have a busier time at work, more responsibilities, unexpected health issues, relationship conflicts, a decline in mental health, financial troubles – different things that life throws at us.
How do we make sure to persevere?
How can we protect ourselves and remain resilient?
How can you stick to your New Year’s resolutions when coming across different setbacks?
Now, that’s when a concrete action plan comes in handy! Here’s our 3-step process to get you back on track even if you fall off course:
Step 1: Learn from Experience
Touch base with yourself and take some time to reflect on this situation:
- How do you feel about your goal? Proud, excited, embarrassed, frustrated, or burnt out?
- Does your resolution reflect your values? Is it aligned with your purpose? Is it changing your life/well-being/health for the better?
- What’s the biggest challenge here? What is the top thing preventing you from pursuing your goal?
- In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
In order for this step to work, you need to be radically honest with yourself. That means no excuses or half-truths but a genuine intention to find an alternative solution and a better way to follow through with your initial plan.
Remember: your failures are not a bad thing. They’re an opportunity to:
- learn your lessons and apply them in practice.
- develop your psychological flexibility so that you can adapt better to unforeseen circumstances in the future.
Step 2: Revise Your Goal
At this point, you might reach a specific conclusion regarding your goal. Perhaps the workload you initially planned is too overwhelming. Maybe your circumstances have changed, and you need to adapt to them, tweaking your goal a bit. If so, it might be a good idea to adjust the details.
Aiming high is so important as it really is a testament to our ambitions. So, yes, dream big – don’t limit your own potential from the get-go. At the same time, I’d encourage you to break your long-term objective into tangible, easy-to-follow daily tasks that you can handle. When we bite more than we can chew, things can really backfire, and we might end up burned out.
According to the goal-setting theory of Locke and Latham, the best strategy for effectively setting New Year’s resolutions is to formulate both superordinate and subordinate goals. What is that exactly?
|specific, concrete, tangible tasks
|broader, general objectives
|they encompass our aspirations and values
|they boost our self-confidence
|they increase our motivation and commitment to pursue goals
|they effectively push us to initiate a specific action
|they push us to maintain goal-oriented action
|they facilitate overcoming obstacles
|they help us overcome temptations and prioritize our goals over other activities
Joining subordinate goals, usually helpful in short-term context, with superordinate goals when it comes to long-term projects, such as New Year’s resolutions, helps us stay on track and run a year-long marathon instead of a month-long sprint.
For example, if you want to maintain a workout routine, reflect on both the bigger picture stuff (your superordinate goals) and the details of your daily grind (the subordinate goals).
- setting a precise, measurable, realistic goal:
- This year, I’ll work out min. 3 times per week, and I’ll try 10 new sports.
- breaking it down into small tasks:
- On Monday morning, I’ll go on a 30-minute run before work.
- connecting to your reasons behind your resolution:
- Working toward this goal will allow me to support my mental and physical health and feel better in my body.
- aligning your goal with your core values:
- Keeping up a fitness routine is important to me because I care about my health, staying active, and having a positive relationship with sports.
Step 3: Renew Your Motivation
When things don’t go our way, it’s common to catastrophize our reality a bit and fall into a downward spiral, noticing every negative aspect of our journey:
The progress we make is not satisfactory, everything takes too much time, it’s a stupid idea, we’re not doing good enough, etc.
Rather than engaging in negative self-talk, it can be beneficial for you to shift your attention to why you started it all. When we connect not only to our weekly to-do lists, calendars, and schedules but also our moral compass, our values behind the goal we chose for ourselves, and our personally meaningful reasons, we build a solid foundation and an amazing resource to lean on when things get a bit challenging.
The final touch is to write a list of the reasons why you chose this goal, explain what you can gain by achieving it and finish it off with a promise where you include the renewed commitment to yourself.
Give Yourself Grace
Your New Year’s resolution will not magically become a fully automated habit overnight. Like most amazing things in life, it takes time and energy to get to that point (66 days on average, to be exact).
And there might be moments when you feel frustrated, self-defeated, or disappointed with yourself. You might prefer to wallow in self-pity, decide that you’ve already failed and drown in the sea of self-loathing.
In this day and age, where we glorify chasing success and working too hard, there’s little place left for softness and kindness. So much so that treating yourself with compassion, love, warmth, and understanding is much harder than being your own worst bully.
In moments that are already challenging enough, I invite you to give yourself grace. Instead of abusing yourself, be your own best friend, a cheerleader, and a number one supporter. You can try:
- recognizing your efforts and the journey you’re on,
- embracing yourself just as you are in this moment,
- releasing the expectation to be perfect,
- celebrating your small wins,
- giving yourself flowers or a different form of reward,
- evoking gratefulness for yourself.
Change is not linear. It’s very much a case of “two steps forward and one step back”. The secret lies in taking those steps again and again and again. And now, you have a toolbelt filled with practical strategies to apply in different situations that you’ll find yourself in.
You got this!